04/06/2011Lose a loved one, and pastors will offer comforting words. Lose your health, and your fellow church members will rally around you. Lose your job, and you could be on your own.
The nation’s unemployment statistics are sobering. More than 13 million Americans are out of work, including four million out of work for more than 12 months. The labor force utilization rate, which is the percentage of the population that has a job or is looking for one, sits at 64 percent, the lowest level since 1984. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI), which measures employee work life, there is growing discontent in the American workplace. The WBI has dropped from 50.9 in 2008 to 48.2 in 2010, revealing increasing discontent with the U.S. work environment, including job satisfaction, trust, and employee/supervisor relations. According to the Conference Board, just 45 percent of Americans are satisfied at work.
No one knows how many of the 13 million unemployed are Christian. A study by The Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life recently reported that 78 percent of the US population identify themselves as Christian, so 8-10 million unemployed Christians is possible. Lifeway Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, has studied the impact of the nation’s unemployment problem on US churches. According to their analysis, 58 percent of Protestant churches had more people lose their jobs in 2010 than in 2009, and 18 percent reported an increase in their members losing their homes to foreclosure, which is often tied to job loss.
Given these figures, much of the Christian community seems to be missing a great opportunity to help the unemployed. Leaders of parachurch ministries focused on helping the unemployed say less than 20 percent of US churches provide any organized outreach to the unemployed.
Denominations such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Presbyterian Convention USA, and the Southern Baptist Convention say nothing on their websites about the nation’s unemployment situation or offer any seminars to help ministers address the issue. Seminaries such as Dallas Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary do not offer seminars on how to help the unemployed. More than 60 of the nation’s leading Christian non-fiction writers have written nothing specifically designed to help the unemployed.
“An overlooked mission field” is how Lynn Guillory describes the unemployed. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Career Transition Ministries and a former HR vice-president with a leading lumber company. His organization works with churches across the country to set up and run job seeker ministries. “Churches do business networking lunches that concentrate on employed people, but they generally do little to help the unemployed,” said Guillory. According to Gary Hansen, President and Founder of Inspired Calling, in the Denver area where his job seeker ministry is based, only 15 of 3000 churches offer any type of outreach to the unemployed. David Rawles, founder of Career Solutions, finds it ironic that most churches seem to ignore the unemployed. “After all,” he says, “we speak of Paul the tentmaker and Jesus the carpenter. We speak about the disciples as fisherman.”
Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, has found that unemployment takes a greater emotional and spiritual toll on people than other life-changing events. Based on his analysis, the unemployed are more dissatisfied with their lives than any other group, including those who are divorced, widowed or separated and suffer more days of “bad mental health” per month than any other group. He also noticed that those out of work for more than one year actually reported fewer days of “bad mental health” per month than those out work for less than one year. Could a sense of resignation be the reason? Oswald does not know, but the Labor Department does report that approximately 15 percent of the unemployed have stopped looking for work.